I believe almost all the casual inferences behind Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 are investigated by your intellectual insight. There might be nothing to investigate left since most of the big canons of academia already wrote articles and books about it. As a very small cannon, I shall try to contribute to this literature by pointing out an important factor that seems to be missing in the discussion. It is of course not the sole reason behind Trump’s victory but in my opinion, it’s a decisive factor.
Which is “they hacked individuals voting behavior and democracy is an old man having difficulties to cope with the digital world”.
I do not want to tire you with the history of politics, but I will drive my main argument from the evolution of modern politics that we are using today. I believe the representative democracy that we use today developed in parallel with the Industrial Revolution.
To summarize, the Industrial Revolution enabled serf laborers in the feudal system to migrate to the big cities because of alternative job opportunities. So they were free from the land, that they were chained in too. Cities such as London, Paris, and Amsterdam were the first examples of these. Workers had begun to take their first steps towards becoming individuals, now that they work for a salary. Since the workers no longer worked in the feudal system and their input was crucial to turning the wheels of endless accumulation of capital wealth, they began to acquire very limited rights. Along with this, the first labor unions emerged and the working class began to organize. These labor unions later turned into political parties. Politics is now being made for the masses (unfortunately, women who make up half the population in almost every country waited until the next century) and elections began. Today, we call the Industrial Revolution that started in 1760 “Industrial Revolution 1.0” (Industry1.0). In the years following the American Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution wee saw the first trials of liberal representative democracy. The period we are in now is called “Industrial Revolution 4.0” (Industry 4.0). Technological innovations that continue exponentially in each century have brought us to this point.
Why did I tell you this? We are going back to London for the answer to this question.
Cambridge Analytica was a London-based political consulting firm and just as its peers from the 18th century, they are capitalist too. But with one major difference, they are surveillance capitalists. The term “surveillance capitalism” was put forward by Shoshana Zuboff in her book “Age of Surveillance Capitalism”. According to Zuboff “it is a new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales”. Based on this understanding the capital is used to extract consumer data from the internet companies, which is called “behavioral surplus”. It is the surplus data that is extracted by the internet companies, to not just improve their services but also analyze it and through algorithms profit from it. The monetary policy of these companies depend on extraction of this surplus, so the model aims to accumulate maximum amount of data so that the algorithms can predict human behaviour more accurately. This market strategy requires the users to spend maximum amount of time on surveillance capitalist platform. More time you spend, more data you provide to surveillance capitalist. So these companies are competing in order to draw our attention, with offering more provocative contents. I believe this competition fuels huge amount of polarization in the society because of the absurd fake news click baits which draws huge amount of attention by the public. Once the user is in the hook, the platform provides more clickable content with out any fact-checking. Which initiates a chain of reaction and hours to be wasted swinging through content to content. As a result the walls of the echo rooms surrounds the user. This aspect of profit maximisation and polarisation is another discussion topic. In this blog post, I will concentrate mostly on behavioural modification through algorithms that leads to manipulation of individual voting behaviour.
That’s basically what they have done during the 2016 election, they targeted manipulatable and undecided voters in critical states and through well-designed algorithms, they shoot them with the fake advertisement. The advertisements specifically designed to fuel a reactionary movement that benefits a certain candidate.
Industry 4.0 vs Democracy
It was revealed that nearly 87 million Facebook users accessed their data without permission through an application developed by Cambridge Analytica for Facebook after an employee gave a statement. The claim that these data were used by the US President Donald Trump’s election team in the 2016 Presidential election. Also one of Cambridge Analytica’s partners is Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign director for the 2016 election.
Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to the US Congress to testify after the scandal broke out. Zuckerberg also acknowledged that his company did not do enough to prevent misuse of social media, including fake news, election foreign interference, hate speech, and data privacy. In summary, after revealing the tendency to vote from voter profiles, to spread unfounded news about Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton on the Facebook pages of undecided voters. These reports mostly contained racist, hate speech. This news targeting the delicate veins of ambivalent voters may have seriously affected the outcome of the election.
The most striking aspect of the trial for me is in the section where the senators and representatives asked Zuckerberg. There are records of the trial, I suggest you open it and watch it. The questions that older senators and representatives ask Mark Zuckerberg shows how far they are from concepts such as social media ads, profile, algorithms, big data. They are far from grasping the seriousness of the incident and the propaganda dimension it can reach. Except for one person, Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).
AOC is a young and well-educated Boston University representative who grew up with Facebook in the Age of Industry 4.0. During the trial, AOC was the only person who could ask Zuckerberg relevant questions that reflecting the seriousness of the incident, and including the consequences, such propaganda might have.
For example, a few questions she asked:
“If I want, the black voter profile I get from Facebook as zip. Can I advertise on Facebook pages of black voters in the US that the election date has changed? “
“Can I advertise to Republican voters that their representatives voted for a law they don’t want?”
On the other hand, the tone of the many questions asked by older legislators are “What is the voter profile?”, “You wouldn’t be so successful if you set up Facebook in Russia, would you?” Irrelevant questions that show they are in a case beyond their comprehension. Or the ones who are interested about the method, seems to be more curious about how would they benefit from this new understanding of political campaigning. The most tragic thing is that these people are the representatives of the people and they are judging Mark Zuckerberg on behalf of the people. It’s like giving a 20th-century surgeon a microsurgical robot and watching it operate. Zuckerberg argued that political ads were not fact-checked before being shared and that it would be against freedom of expression.
After the scandal, famous comedian Sacha Baron Cohen expresses the devastating consequences that data use in politics can bring:
“If Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would allow Hitler to run 30-second ads about his solution to the Jewish problem.”
To tie my point to democratic backsliding, I would like to mention the amendments written by Philippe C. Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl on Robert Dahls offered “procedural minimal” conditions for modern political democracy:
Democracy is in jeopardy if military officers, entrenched civil servants, or state managers retain the capacity to act independently of elected civilians or even veto decisions made by the people’s representatives(apparently now Surveillance Capitalist should be on the list).
The polity must be self-governing; it must be able to act independently of constraints imposed by some other overarching political system (or digital world and social media platforms).
The raw data we are sharing with surveillance capitalists, harvested into propaganda tools causing the violation of these principles. 2016 Trump campaign, BREXIT, Jair Bolsanaro’s victory, and many more used this tool in different capacities which is offered to them by unelected officials. A handful of unaccountable internet companies today holding the power of influencing a country’s election, its level of polarization, and as a result the integrity of its democracy. Donald Trump’s tenure witnessed huge shreds of evidence which can be considered as democratic backsliding. But this assault on free will which undermines people’s sovereignty over the governmental decision is a huge threat regarding democratic erosion. Thus the behavioral modifications and targeted ads should be considered as democratic backsliding. Since the 2016 Election resulted in near margins in swing states like 23 thousand in Wisconsin or 11 thousand in Michigan, the influence of surveillance capitalist might determine Trump’s victory. If we fail to upgrade the relevancy of the institutions and actors operates in it, soon the whole competition will be about who acquiring the biggest amount of data and who writes the most efficient algorithms.
Before I wrapped up, I think democracy is the best-known management system at the moment. Because democracy is a form of government where all individuals in the society feel valued, are free, social equality is ensured, people respect each other, and live in fair order.
But, it should not be forgotten that the basic principles of the model we use today belong to Industry 1.0. Except for the judicial review efforts after the devastating consequences of World War 2, the main operational logic did not change. It is almost 200 years old, still operates mainly by the institutions Montesquieu suggested, a constitution that the founding fathers of the US-drafted and unfortunately today it is failing to answer the needs of the public and cope with the new tools of Industry 4.0 offers.
As Guillermo O’Donnell suggested, “institutionalization comes with the boredom of bureaucracy”. I believe this boredom which is mostly causing by the age of democracy with the actors operates in it failed to respond to the publics’ need in the modern and digital world. Just like our surgeon from the 20th century. With everything getting faster and faster(we are even skipping intros in Netflix), bureaucracy still keeping its unwieldiness. So it contributes to the rising anti-establishment success. Considering, populist leader’s direct relation with their voter base which dismantles institutional checks. It is a relation that surpass bureaucratic code of conducts and aim to deliver the demands without institutional arrangements.
What I want to say is, democratic institutions must cope with the impatiences which come with the modern world lifestyle and this newly emerging data politics , if we want to live in a decent and just world. Because we saw in the age of Industry 4.0 that elections can now be “hacked” and people liked to see overriding institutional responsiveness.
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